Great physiques are forged in the kitchen, not the gym; you can pump iron as much as you like, but if your diet is below-par, your body will follow suit. And just as what you eat impacts your physical strength, a new study shows just how much your food habits affect your mindset. While the amino acids within protein are the building blocks of your muscles, it seems your mental strength is built on a foundation of fruit and veg…
‘Increased consumption of fruit and vegetables can be directly linked to life satisfaction and mental wellbeing’
The study, which gathered data from a range of surveys conducted between 2010 and 2017, shows that increased consumption of fruit and vegetables can be directly linked to increases in self-reported life satisfaction and mental wellbeing. In other words, those who eat their 5 a day – or a similar amount of fruit and veg on a regular basis – are generally happier than those who don’t.
Unfortunately, getting your greens in seems easier said than done. Seven per cent of those surveyed (no less than 9,310 people) reported never eating a piece of fruit in a week, and 2% (2,710 people) said they regularly go entire weeks without touching a vegetable. Men, meanwhile, fall some way behind women in the fruit and veg stakes. But why?
One reason given is that women are more likely to be vegetarian, but there’s no reason your meat eating should be getting in the way of your five a day. In fact, your fitness as well as your mental health is dependent on a degree of plant-based nutrition. You can check out this RSNG article for more on the benefits of going green, but the key take-home is that fruit and veg provides your body with a unique set of nutrients necessary for peak performance.
Buying Into Wellbeing
Despite the clear link between a healthy, balanced diet and robust mental health, the study suggests expense is another reason some people struggle to eat healthily. While there’s a general sense that you need to sink funds into expensive, ‘trend’ foods to be healthy, nutritionist Evelyn Toner ([@the_active_dietician])(https://www.instagram.com/the_active_dietitian) says it needn’t be that way. Some of the blame for this perception lies with the marketing of so-called ‘superfoods’: avocado, spirulina and wheatgrass, for example.
‘These are not only inaccessible to a lot of people, they are also completely unnecessary,’ she says. ‘But unfortunately there’s this idea that you need these foods to eat healthily.’ Far from expensive superfoods being the only option, there are many ways to eat healthily, like these:
Frozen mixed berries: ‘Inexpensive and available in the frozen aisle of most supermarkets, berries are a good source of polyphenols, which have an antioxidant effect.’
Apples. ‘A good source of dietary fibre to protect against heart disease and cancer.’
Bananas. ‘These contain prebiotics: food for the good gut bacteria.’
Frozen spinach. ‘It’s rich in fibre and polyphenols.’
Carrots. ‘Widely available, carrots contain beta-carotene which benefits the immune system and our vision.’
Onions. ‘Like bananas, they’re a good source of pre-biotics.’
The study also suggests that frequency is as important as quantity, so adding just one more portion of fruit and veg to your diet – and sticking with it every day – can be hugely beneficial. But if a walk down the vegetable aisle leaves you confused and dashing for the comfort of the cold meats, we’ve got you covered...
‘Brightly coloured fruit and veg is rich in polyphenols, which have a powerful antioxidant effect’
Knowing What To Pick
Toner says the greater variety of fruit and veg in your weekly diet, the better. She also says it’s important to ‘include a range of different colours and experiment with new types.’ As well as the mental benefits suggested in the study, Toner says a wide range of colours ensures you’re getting, ‘a broad range of micronutrients, phytonutrients and food for your gut microbiome’ – in short, all the nutrients necessary for general good health.
If in doubt, make brightness your priority. ‘Brightly coloured fruit and veg is rich in polyphenols, which have a powerful antioxidant effect,’ explains Toner (think spinach, broccoli, red onion, carrots and berries). Antioxidants limits cell damage and reduce inflammation, making them particularly important for anyone who exercises regularly.
Fitting It All In
We know fruit and veg has the power to make you happier and physically healthier, but if you’re still scratching your head as to how you’re going to factor more of it in, Toner has a few suggestions. The first is to favour frozen: not only is frozen fruit better for the planet, it also means you can have a ready supply without fearing that it’s going to go bad. ‘Opting for frozen is cheaper and it will last longer,’ says Toner, ‘and it’s great for use in overnight oats or your morning porridge.’
Secondly, she suggests ‘bulking out dishes you're already preparing with extra veg: add in some grated carrot to spaghetti bolognese, or half a can of sweetcorn to your lunchtime soup.’ And if you’re following a recipe, ‘increase the vegetable quantities by at least 1.5.’ The flavour won’t suffer, but you’ll significantly boost the mind and body benefits of whatever you’re cooking.
WHAT NEXT? Use these simple tips to get more veg into your diet:
Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.